Loyalists 'to scale down school protest'

 

Loyalists in north Belfast are considering moves to tone down their picket this week at the Catholic Holy Cross primary school, a source close to the protest claimed tonight.

It is understood talks have been taking place over the weekend between police and Glenbryn residents who have picketed the school attended by girls from the nationalist Ardoyne area since the beginning of the school year in September.

The loyalist residents staged the protest because they claimed they had been subjected to sectarian harassment from nationalists.

However Holy Cross parents and nationalist leaders denied the claim, accusing loyalists of subjecting their children to a vicious campaign of intimidation.

A source close to the protest tonight was hopeful for moves under way to defuse tensions in the area ahead of the children's return to school tomorrow after the Halloween break.

"The Glenbryn protesters have been involved in discussions with police and are working towards a scheme to reduce tension," the source said.

"The talks are at a sensitive stage but there is a lot of work going on. I would interpret this as a hopeful sign of real positive discussions taking place within loyalism."

In recent days, Ulster Unionist Party leader Mr David Trimble and party colleagues Mr Fred Cobain and Mr David McNarry have been involved in efforts to reduce tensions in the area through a commission involving members of the rival paramilitary groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Freedom Fighters and Red Hand Commando.

The Loyalist Commission met Northern Ireland security minister Jane Kennedy last week.

The source said this weekend's moves to tone down the picket should be interpreted as a sign that the commission was beginning to have a real influence on the protest.

"I think it also justifies Fred Cobain and David McNarry's decision to meet the loyalist paramilitaries in an attempt to defuse the situation," he said.

PA